By By Leora Eisen, director of Food for Thought  

In school, she was always the heaviest kid in the class. By the time she was 35, she was clinically obese — 50 pounds heavier than she is today. So when Tufts University’s Susan Roberts offers diet advice, she bases it on personal experience as well as science.

Roberts, featured in Nature of Things documentary Food for Thought, is a leading nutrition researcher, professor of psychiatry at the Tufts University School of Medicine, and the author of more than 250 research studies on nutrition and weight management. She has devoted her career to helping people with weight problems eat better, and is also the creator of the iDiet, a popular weight-loss program featuring recipes she developed herself.

Sue Roberts makes bread

Roberts believes one reason diets don’t work is that they’re based on deprivation, ensuring you’ll feel hungry when you give up your favourite foods for unappetizing dishes. “I’m a foodie, and I think that the food that’s often suggested to people who are challenged with their weight shouldn’t be boring, horrible food.”

Here are a few ways she suggests you can eat a healthier diet, without sacrificing everything you enjoy. “Over time, small changes can make a big difference,” she says.

Eat what you love, but change the ingredients

Before earning a PhD in nutrition, Roberts was a trained chef. “One of my hobbies, actually, is creating new recipes, and I’m always thinking about how to convert a formerly unhealthy food into a healthy one with a few tweaks.”

Some suggestions:
If you’re a cereal lover, mix your favourite cereal with a high-fibre, unsweetened bran cereal.
If you’re an Italian food lover, try making chicken parmesan without the breading: bake boneless breasts with tomato sauce, then add a little bit of grated parmesan and a sprig of basil.
If you love dessert, try dipping fresh strawberries or some All Bran bars in dark chocolate.

Fill up with fibre

What’s the best way to measure what and how much you should eat? Many diet gurus recommend counting calories. But Roberts says there’s another way to evaluate food: by
whether or not it fills you up. If you eat healthy foods that satisfy hunger, research shows you’ll eat less later.

Foods that contain lots of fibre — including most vegetables, fruits, legumes and whole grains — make us feel full because we digest them more slowly. So while a small chicken salad with nuts, olive oil and roasted veggies may have the same calorie count as a doughnut, she explains, it’s also packed with a variety of nutrients and can leave you feeling full for several hours.

Some suggestions:
Grab an apple as a satisfying snack.
Sprinkle a salad with nuts and seeds.
Cook up some oat bran mixed with wheat bran for breakfast.
Add berries to your oat bran for extra taste and more fibre.
Add lentils and beans to your daily menu.

Don’t drink calories

To Roberts, cutting out sugary beverages like sweetened juices and soft drinks is an easy way to avoid consuming hundreds of calories. “I personally think soft drinks as a food category should be assigned to history,” she says. “There is literally nothing good about them and liquid calories have the opposite effect of fibre. They provide no satiety despite [being] high-calorie.”

If you’re really craving a bubbly or flavoured drink, Roberts suggests sipping on plain carbonated mineral water or adding a slice of lemon to your glass of water. “If this doesn’t taste quite as good initially,” she adds, “keep at it because, after a few drinks when you’re thirsty, your brain will adapt and find it enjoyable.”

Dine out differently

It’s not surprising that many of us blow the budget on restaurant meals. For exhausted working parents, ordering in is a welcome relief. For a fun night out, restaurants are a great place to socialize with friends and family.

According to her study on restaurant and weight, our desire to dine out comes with a steep price — and not just for our wallets. “Restaurant portions are terrible,” says Roberts. According to her study on restaurant frequency and weight, people who ate out every day were significantly heavier than the people who ate out infrequently. But there are some simple ways to make restaurant meals easier to digest.

Some suggestions:
Ask for a half or even one-third portion of your meal, and have the kitchen pack up the rest before your plate arrives.
Politely decline the basket of bread and butter.
Ask for dressing on the side, or make your own with balsamic vinegar and olive oil.
Share dessert with your dining companions, so you each get one or two bites.

Watch Food for Thought on The Nature of Things.
 

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